Golden Age Showcase: Amazing Man

Well, last week was fun but I think it’s time for a return to form.  Let’s talk about an obscure comic book hero from an obscure comic book publisher who had more of an impact on the world of comics than he had any right to have.

Today we’re talking about the aptly named Amazing Man.

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Origin and Career

Amazing Man was one of the greatest and most noteworthy heroes to come out of a small publisher called Centaur Publishing, mostly because he was created by comic book super creator Bill Everett.

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Centaur was a spin off company created by two former employees of National Allied Publications, the company that would eventually become DC Comics.

They were actually one of the first comic book publishing companies in American history and in 1939 they debuted Amazing Man in the creatively named Amazing Man Comics #5.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

Now, I’ve seen some covers created by some of the greatest comic book talent and while this one isn’t as colorful or as action packed as most of them, it certainly does a hell of a lot to pique my interest.

In traditional Golden Age fashion, his backstory is explained in one page.  When he was a baby he was adopted by a group of monks and trained to be their instrument.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

I love how they call him an “ultra man” and how a group of Tibetan monks look so pale and white.

The monks put him through a battery of tests, Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

I honestly don’t know which one I think is more awesome.

Almost as a side note, one of the monks injects him with a serum that turns him into a green mist.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

Why? How?  Who cares!

He goes out into the world and stops his first crime by uncovering a conspiracy by a greedy railroad president to wreck his trains but not before our hero uses his unexplained powers of telepathy to boost a moving train over a washed out bridge.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

It’s like the movie Speed, only with trains instead of buses.

It’s presumed that the President of the railroad company did it for insurance money, but the reason is never given and the story ends with the criminal committing suicide rather than being captured.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #5

There was an interesting plot point revealed early on that actually managed to separate the Amazing Man from the competition.  Early in the series it was revealed that one of the monks from The Amazing Man’s home turned out to be evil.

The monk’s name was “The Great Question” and he had the ability to control Amazing Man telepathically,

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #6

What’s really interesting is that Everett didn’t shy away from violence, showing people getting beaten and even shot.

Comic Book Cover For Amazing Man Comics #6

The battle between Amazing Man and the Great Question would become the defining conflict of the series until it was cancelled in 1942.  Most of the adventures were pretty run of the mill, if it weren’t for the glorious covers that were featured on almost all of the issues.

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So what happened?

One of the defining traits of comic book publishers during the Golden Age was that, with the exception of Marvel and Detective Comics, a lot of them wound up either going out of business or folded into other publications.

Centaur Publications is a rather unique story because it’s shelf life was even shorter than most of its competitors.

Thanks to a bad distribution deal the company went out of business in 1942, they didn’t even get to see the end of the war.

Someone must have remembered them, because in 1992 a good portion of their characters were revived by another comic book publisher called Malibu Comics.

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Amazing Man was part of the revival and he found himself part of a superhero group known as the Protectors,

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complete with all the trappings and glorious excess that was a hallmark of superheroes in the 1990’s.

In a sad twist of fate, Malibu Comics would suffer the same fate as Centaur.  They fell victim to the skulduggery surrounding the comic book industry of the 1990’s and were bought out by Marvel in 1994.

Amazing Man would make another appearance in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers title,

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but what’s really interesting is how his legacy managed to live on in Marvel Comics itself.

John Aman would make an appearance in the Invincible Iron Fist #12 in 2008.

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Marvel kept the name, the ability to change into a glowing green mist, and his mystical connections to Tibetan culture by having him become the “Prince of Orphans” and being charged with hunting down a character named Orson Randall, the man who was the Iron Fist superhero before Danny Rand took over.

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Long story short, Orson and Aman are originally enemies but wind up fighting for the same side when Aman learns that his employers lied to him about their plans for their city and Earth.

The Prince of Orphans would also make appearances in Secret Avengers,

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the Marvel event comic Fear Itself, where he had to fight a possessed Iron Fist in order to save the universe, and most recently as an antagonist in the 2012 Defenders series.

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So what we have here is a revamped Golden Age superhero with ties to Tibetan mysticism, who is a brilliant martial artist who can turn himself into a green mist, and who winds up being a sort of assassin for the same mystical city that created Iron Fist.  Now, I don’t want to put thoughts in anyone’s head, but don’t you think a guy with a cool power set would be perfect for a certain set of shows on a tiny little network like say…Netflix?

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All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of history to go back on here, and while I haven’t gotten around to watching the Iron Fist show on Netflix, everything I’ve heard tells me that they could use something a bit more…amazing.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Green Turtle

WARNING: This article contains offensive portrayals of Black and Asian people and discussion of legitimate war crimes committed by the Japanese Army in China.  You have been warned.

Today I want to talk about diversity in comics.

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Yes, I know this is probably the last subject that anyone wants to talk about, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit late to the party on this one (for the record no…I don’t think diversity is killing Marvel’s sales, it’s event fatigue and constant relaunches), but this is a blog series on the Golden Age of Comics and while there were a fair share of non white characters in early comic books,

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they weren’t exactly…acceptable for modern audiences, or any audiences for that matter.

With that being said, if there was one specific group of people who were blatantly targeted during the Golden Age of Comics, it was the Japanese.

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This sort of propaganda was quite prevalent during the 1940’s and I’m sure people made excuses for it like “there’s a war on”,

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and “they attacked us first”,

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but calling an entire country of people animals,

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and unfairly imprisoning thousands of American citizens because they were suspected of being saboteurs,

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is just wrong.

The funny thing is, during the Golden Age of Comics there were a small number of Asian American artists working in the industry, and one of them even created a superhero that actually portrayed the Japanese with a small semblance of humanity.

Today were going to talk about the first Asian American superhero: The Green Turtle.

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Origin and Career

The Green Turtle made his first appearance on the cover of Blazing Comics #1 in June of 1944.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

You’ll notice a couple of things about the cover such as the shadow figure with the eyes, the fact that the Japanese soldier being strangled has actual eyes instead of slants, and that the hero’s face isn’t showing.  All of that is there for a reason and I’ll explain it later.

The character was created by Asian American artist Chu F. Hing.

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Hing was born in Hawai’i, studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and was part of a small group of Asian American artists who were working in American comicbooks at the time.

The comic itself was an anthology title and was published by a small collection of publishers known as Rural Home.  The specific company that published Blazing Comics was called Croydon Publishing.

The comic takes place entirely in the Pacific, and the Green Turtle exclusively fights Japanese soldiers and leaders.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

What’s really interesting is that all of the action takes place in Japanese held China.  The Japanese soldiers attack Chinese civilians, the entire supporting cast is Chinese, and America is never threatened or even mentioned in the comic.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

While the Green Turtle had no actual superpowers, he did have a cool looking jet called “The Turtle Plane”.

The man swoops in and saves the day by machine gunning a bunch of Japanese soldiers, rescuing a boy and his mother, and roasting two more soldiers with his jet engines.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

Holy crap!  He actually cares for the civilians and actively tries not to kill them!

So, the Green Turtle works in China, protects the Chinese people, and lives in a mountain in Tibet.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

So did that mean that the Green Turtle was a Chinese superhero?

Well…did you notice that in those pages above you never saw the hero’s face?  That’s something of a common theme throughout the comic.

It’s widely believed that Hing was locked in a battle with his editor over the ethnicity of the Green Turtle.  In all likelihood, Hing wanted to make him Chinese but his editor was resistant due to the infamous “Yellow Peril” that produced many of the offensive stereotypes that permeate our culture.

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So while the Green Turtle spoke English and had pink skin, as opposed to yellowish orange like the Asian characters,

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #1

Hing subverted this by never showing his face in the comic, even when they slapped an image of his face on the cover of the next issue.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

The kid on the cover was the Turtle’s sidekick and the same kid he rescued in the first issue.  His name was “Burma Boy” because if you wanted any amount of success in the Golden Age of Comics you needed a kid sidekick with a wacky name.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the Green Turtle’s origin story and what is that weird shadow with a face?  Sadly, the comic never gave an origin story or an explanation for the shadow.

Something that makes this comic especially noteworthy is Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese.  Unlike many Japanese soldiers in other American comics Hing wrote and drew like…humans.

Which is especially hilarious when, in the VERY NEXT STORY IN THE ANTHOLOGY, there is an American soldier who manages to convince Japanese soldiers that he is one of them by smearing mud on his face.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

However, It is worth mentioning that while Hing’s portrayal of the Japanese was substantially less racist that his American contemporaries, they were still portrayed as monsters.  While Hing’s Japanese spoke perfect English and had visible eyeballs, they weren’t above bayoneting women and children,

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

and torturing prisoners.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #2

This could be chalked up to war time paranoia and Hing’s Chinese heritage, since Japanese soldiers had a well documented history of brutal and horrific war crimes in China.

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(side note: why the Japanese committed these crimes is a discussion for another day.  All that I will say on the matter is that many of the Imperial Japanese military officers responsible for these crimes were tried and punished, many Japanese officials have apologized for them, and it still remains a very sensitive and painful memory for a lot of people to this day.)

So what happened?

The Green Turtle disappeared off of the face of the Earth after issue #5.  I can’t say exactly what happened, but my research showed that Croydon only published 10 books from 1944-1946, and I am speaking from personal experience when I say that the publishing industry is not kind to small time publishers.

The Green Turtle would remain obscure for decade until 2014, when American cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and Malaysian born artist Sonny Liew created a six issue mini series that told the origin story of the Green Turtle called The Shadow Hero.

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It definitively makes the character Asian and gives an explanation for the shadow and why his skin is pink.

I actually remember reading it in 2014, long before I decided to start this blog.  It’s a really good story and I highly recommend it.

The Green Turtle was definitely a special case for the Golden Age of Comics.  In an industry dominated by white men and white superheroes here was an Asian creator doing his absolute best to create an Asian hero in a time where it wasn’t socially acceptable.  It would be understandable to think that Chu Hing was upset and angry about this, but I don’t think that was the case.

At the start of Blazing Comics #3, Hing has some Chinese characters on the left side of the first panel.

Comic Book Cover For Blazing Comics #3

It’s an old Chinese saying “Four oceans, one family”, which could be interpreted as the author stating that even though China and America are worlds apart in culture and distance they’re still brothers in arms and a common cause.

That…is remarkably open for a comic book coming out of the 1940’s and is something that deserves our attention and respect.

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